You’re Pregnant — You Need Not Be a Target

Oct. 1 marked the end of former UPS employee Peggy Young’s long journey for justice. Almost nine years after Young became pregnant and lost her job, the parties have reached a settlement, the details of which have not been released. 
 
The decade-long battle also affected other pregnant women at UPS. In January, the company implemented a new pregnancy accommodation policy, which provides lighter duties for pregnant employees.
 
Tom Spiggle, founder of Spiggle Law and author of “You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired!”, is a Virginia-based lawyer who defends women like Young often. He spoke with Diversity Executive about pregnancy law and his expectations for millennial men in management. Edited excerpts follow.  
 
Why do you have a soft spot for pregnancy discrimination cases?
 
It’s an especially vulnerable time for women who are pregnant and for their families. Working women are getting to the upper level of an organization and having children later in their career, which means they’re often at a higher income level, and more often they’re the main breadwinner of their families. So while pregnancy discrimination and caregiver discrimination have always been wrong, now the impact it has on women and families is even more pronounced. That’s why it’s important for workers to know their rights so they can advocate for themselves. 
 
The basic law, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, hasn’t changed a tremendous amount. There have been a couple of changes that impacted the law though. The biggest change is from another law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was amended in 2009. Now that law is much more inclusive. A lot of the conditions that pregnant women have are covered by the ADA. That means they are entitled to legal accommodations that result in changes in the workplace.  
 
What don’t pregnant women know about the law that might prevent them from pursuing a case?
 
A lot of women know about the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. They don’t know how it can be applied tactfully. When they recognize pregnancy discrimination, [they don’t] understand that they don’t necessarily need a smoking gun. An office manager or whoever you report to doesn’t have to walk in and say, “You’re pregnant, you’re fired.” Circumstantial evidence is enough in a lot of these cases to win.  
 
A lot of women don’t know the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects women who raise issues of pregnancy discrimination. So, if you believe you are being discriminated against, you won’t be terminated because you raised issues. 
 
Another piece a lot of people don’t know is something that falls a little outside of pregnancy discrimination: caregiver discrimination. That is any time of stereotyping whereby the manager of a company would say, “All women who have children are going to be taking a lot of time off, so they’re not going to be committed. So, we as a company are going to not give women as many opportunities,” when in fact [their assumptions] may not be true. 
 
The same is true for men. If the man takes time from work to be with the child, the company likewise can’t stereotype the man. 
 
How prevalent is caregiver discrimination against men? 
 
It’s different for men than for women. Men are not as universally discriminated against for taking time off to be with their children as a woman might be. It does happen more than we think, but it’s not reported, and it probably does not happen as much to men as it does to women. 
 
Perhaps with the millennial generation, we will see men who are going to be more willing to take time off work to spend with their families, who are going to be less willing to look the other way, even if they’re penalized at work. We would hope when the millennial generation works its way up to management, perhaps that will become more prevalent overall. Some research suggests that when millennial men take management positions they will not be as likely to discriminate against workers who want the same privilege.
 
What is important for business leaders to know about pregnancy discrimination? 
 
It’s important to know that a lot of positive change comes from the corporate level. There are companies that are enacting more progressive policies and trying to do as much good as I do, someone who represents the employees. And they have access to a larger audience than I do. There’s a lot of possibility for positive change coming from the businesses themselves.